Back at the Deara souq today, we had a two-hour window (between prayer calls) to do some last-minute shopping for my American friend. She heads home on vacation in a couple of days and was keen to pick up a couple of oriental rugs. Prices for these beautiful woven items start from a couple of hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on size, quality of thread and weave.
We meandered in an out of shops covered from floor to ceiling with all types of trinkets, trying to decipher the terribly cheap from the exquisite. Goods made in China have found their way to this corner of the world which angers me as I see so little evidence of local craftmanship. I recently bought a beautiful pewter ‘oud’ burner, (oud is a fragrant wood that Saudi women use ‘as incense’ to perfume their homes) from a specialist store, took it home and discovered a ‘Made in China sticker on the box!
With an hour left before the prayer call, we hurried into the first carpet shop we came to and were left with mouths wide open at the display of beauty before us. My American friend quickly got into buying mode within the budget she had set herself but she kept getting distracted by all the expensive silk rugs displayed. The owner was talking in the thousands of dollars, even though his humble store was in the midst of the people’s marketplace.
I remarked, ‘How come you have all this expensive stock?’
For 45 minutes we stood in awe as he told us his remarkable story.
His family, from Afghanistan sold carpets for three generations until the Russians came and war broke out. Their land confiscated and their business destroyed they fled to Pakistan as refugees. Slowly they started up again in Pakistan only to be persecuted there as well so they returned to Afghanistan. Now Americans were occupying his country and my friend started shuffling on the spot as he mentioned that, but she had nothing to be concerned about. It was because of them that his family prospered. Penniless, his father went from house to house in the wealthier areas asking for any old, worn, unwanted carpets. He repaired a threadbare carpet that was over 100 years old and immediately sold it to an interested American for $5000. With that money he was able to rebuild his business and send his son to Riyadh.
The owner spoke so passionately, tears came to our eyes and he showed us a tattered album of the carpets his father purchased and lovingly restored. The son now operates three small stores in Saudi Arabia and sources all the material himself from the wool in Russia to the dye in Peshawar.
He has now been invited to open a store in Uruguay by an enthusiastic expat!
‘Now you have heard my story Madam and I am happy that you asked me about my store. It does not matter that you have not bought anything from me today, you have made me happy. Please come again, sit and drink tea.’
My American friend and I left the shop as prayer time loomed and we didn’t care that we hadn’t bought a thing.
We simply were inspired to hear a good news story only metres away from Chop Chop Square.